Book Review: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is a leadership fable by Patrick Lencioni, and though not as savvy a title, it could also have been called The One Focus of a Healthy Organization with a Disciplined CEO: Culture, Culture, Culture, Culture.

I have just begun to get familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s work, and this is the second of his books I have listened to and then read (If you are a Lencioni groupie, my first was The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees). I liked that one too; just never got around to reviewing it.

I am primarily a visual learner, one who has always preferred to read non-fiction books with a sturdy hardcover I can annotate completely. However in the mix of fiction and non-fiction they usually are, business parables are the exception; I always prefer to listen to them first and enjoy the melodic story-telling of the narrator so I can get the whole story before I start to take it apart for the “non-fiction” lesson it tries to tell. In fact, I will usually listen to them while on my daily walk precisely because it’s too much hassle to bring pen and paper with me, and then stop, sit on a curb or rock wall somewhere and write down my thoughts; I have to listen well (and with an Open, Positive Mindset!) and that’s that.

I am finding that whether it is his deliberate intention or not, Lencioni is a brilliant marketer for someone like me (another management and leadership coach who writes and studies business theory) and for all managers looking to get better at what they do. His stories are very well crafted, and though you already know the story, you end up buying the book to keep the non-fiction model he adds in the final pages which suggests how you can begin to actually practice what the story urges you to do. In essence he is painting this picture of a very familiar present circumstance, spinning a story of how it can turn out with a happy ending, and then enticing you to become the real-life protagonist of his fable.

pro ·tag ·o ·nist  Pronunciation: [proh-tag-uh-nist] ”“noun

1. the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.

2. a proponent for or advocate of a political cause, social program, etc.

3. the leader or principal person in a movement, cause, etc.

I understand Lencioni has workbooks for a few of his selected titles too: Smart marketer, good coach.

My review of this book in two words: Loved it.

My review of this book in six words: Wish every CEO would read it.

My review of this book in a dozen words: Bliss if every SLC client read it before I worked with them.

Based on this one book alone, Mr. Lencioni’s coaching is near-perfectly aligned with Managing with Aloha: It became somewhat of a game for me to find something within his writing that I did not agree with.

I couldn’t.

Selfishly speaking for a moment, and enlisting other authors to unofficially work with me on my mission to aloha-reconstruct our workplaces, my coaching would be much easier and faster if the entire Say Leadership Coaching coursework pattern required something like this (and I must figure out how to make it happen):

1. Course Preparation: An understanding of the importance of a healthy organizational culture and your role within it.
Course Text: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, a leadership fable by Patrick Lencioni

2. Course Guts: Your workplace reconstruction and value-alignment.
Course Text: Managing with Aloha by me

3. Workplace Target Number One: Absolutely no doubt about this; with the Role of the Manager Reconstructed.
Course Field Guide:  Managing with Aloha
Field Guide Companion: RSS subscription to the Managing with Aloha Coaching Value of the Month Program

4. Habit-Forming and Continual Follow-up: Closing the Knowing-Doing gap, and inculcating your new learning into your culture with your in-company trainers and coaches.
Course Text: Know Can Do! Put your Know-How into Action by Ken Blanchard, Paul J. Meyer, and Dick Ruhe [reviewed it here.]

Ah, what a dream! As I will often tell my customers directly, I am hoping we are friends forever, but to be forthright, I don’t want you to be my client forever because you cannot muster the discipline and focus (as per The Four Obsessions) to integrate and execute what you are learning (as per Know Can Do!). Sigh…

When someone calls Say Leadership Coaching and tells me they want to "bring Managing with Aloha into our company culture" job one for me is to ascertain if I can immediately accept the job to coach them through the process, or start by telling them honestly and clearly "I am happy you want to manage and lead with aloha, but first, I must be straight with you on a few of the roadblocks I see."

One of my biggest roadblocks —if not THE biggest— is not getting the CEO (or primary decision-influencer and top dog) to buy-in, for they’ve largely done that already in reading my book or hearing about my work from past customers and making the call. The biggest roadblock is getting him or her to understand their role as champion of the process. Then, the next speed-bumps appear with

a) getting the CEO to understand the roles of the other executives on the leadership team, and that they will need extra coaching and support (from the CEO directly)

b) getting commitment for the discipline it will take from all of them Kākou (inclusively, no exceptions, and with the "Language of We") and Lōkahi (in a unified way). They must set the best example of those who manage with aloha for the rest of the organization.

This is precisely what Lencioni’s book, The Four Obsessions of an Ordinary Executive addresses so eloquently.

Five takeaways to start

Lencioni goes for a specific audience: You have to be a leader and a student of business culture to love this book. These were among the notes I took on this book after I listened to it the very first time;

~1~ Healthy Humans Triumph
Lencioni’s fable includes a dramatic plot twist for a couple of secondary characters which serves to make his story entertaining, but also gives a strong message along the lines of “just how bad can things get in a healthy company, that they cannot be fixed —or negated even when a saboteur takes knowledge of them to an enemy camp?”

~2~ Vision, Mission, and Values Depend on Clarity
Leaders cannot underestimate the importance of clarity: When their people "get it" enough to talk the language of laser-sharp company-specific vision, mission, and core values they will find their decision-making is so much quicker and easier: Clarity and near-drunkenness on the ‘company koolaid’ provides people with the precise filters they need to sift their options through. Making choices becomes the final step of a no-brainer thought process.

~3~ Focus + Self-Discipline is a Powerful Partnership
Managers need focus, and cannot underestimate how self-disciplined they need to be. We all need a "yellow sheet" tacked to that bulletin board of intention within our brains. Rich O’Connor, the Extraordinary Executive of Lencioni’s fable had the Four Obsessions written on his yellow sheet as a constant reminder, and while I personally agree with these four obsessions intent on building a healthy culture, chances are we can write four other things and improve something if our self-discipline with focus and execution kicks in.

~4~ Stop Hating Meetings: Reinvent Them
Lencioni reinforced why I love meetings and huddles —when they are not boring, and they include rigorous, healthy, and respectful debate within a trusting team dynamic. Meetings rock when they are living, breathing demonstrations of how well great teams function; they don’t make time drag —they light brilliant bonfires of human energy and creative prowess.

~5~ Politically-Correct is Ineffective and Boring
In his Afterword section (within the non-fiction methods wrap-up) Lencioni does a great job of explaining why you need to focus on a few values and not fall into that politically-correct trap of making everyone happy, where like every other company on the planet you say you “are equally committed to quality, innovation, teamwork, ethics, integrity, customer satisfaction, employee development, financial results, and community involvement.” In today’s business environments those are givens, not core values. Not only that, they likely are devoid of the passion and excitement you need to make work sing in the hearts of the human beings associated with your company. Get edgy and brave. Stand up for what you really think and believe in.

Now that I have bought the hardcover and am reading it over, there will surely be more that I add to my annotation. Full contact reading as Tim says :)

Time to Talk Back! Tell me:

If you have it, and have read or listened to it, what impressions did The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive make with you?

Postscript: I fully realize I did not tell you what the Four Obsessions were. I don’t like to reveal an author’s punch line when they themselves haven’t done so in their own jacket blurbs and promo-writing. If you must know what they are, you will find them quickly within another review.

Related writing in my Archives:

Links to more of my book reviews can be found here:

Mana‘o on a Virtual Bookshelf


  1. says

    Always Find Your Doubting Thomas

    “Easy for you to say.” During my corporate management career, that would be the response I could get from others on my management team at times, whether it was to me directly, with a sigh and doubtful shake of their

  2. says

    Tuesday Essay #2: The Learning Process of Managing with Aloha

    In the past three weeks we talked about core assumptions with learning within the Managing with Aloha workplace philosophy. If you have not yet read those 2 essays, I would encourage you to start from the beginning and come back